Our final stop on this brief hop through Italy en route to Paris was Turin, the capital of the Piedmont region. Perched on the banks of the Po River in northwestern Italy, Turin has a few claims to fame: it’s the headquarters of both Fiat and Alpha Romeo and thus sort of the Detroit of Italy; it was the capital of the House of Savoy and thus the home of Italy’s royal family in the 19th and 20th centuries; and it’s where you can find the Shroud of Turin, should that be your thing.Turin’s comparatively modern history is deeply embedded in the fight for Italian unification. From 1802 until the fall of Napoleon, Piedmont – including Turin – was annexed by the French. After Napoleon’s fall, the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia was restored with the House of Savoy as rulers and they took the lead in fighting for Italian unification – under their royal control, of course. At the start of the 19th century Italy was a geographical concept rather than a country; it was a collection of independent states along with large sections controlled by the Austrian Empire. The fight for unification or Risorgimento was fought from the end of the Napoleonic control until the defeat of the Papal States in 1870. When the Kingdom of Italy was declared in 1861 Turin was named the national capital, though it was moved to the more-central Florence in 1865 and then to Rome in 1870 when the defeat of the Papal States made Italian unification a reality. The kingdom, with the Savoyard royals at the top, ruled until the end of World War II when the Republic was declared.
Turin has been described as a Little Paris, and indeed it’s 19th century architecture and relatively wide streets – compared to nearby Genoa, for instance – along with piles of dog shit you periodically encounter does evoke a bit of Paris. I have to admit, though, I wasn’t enchanted by Turin. It could be that it was simply a let down after Genoa, which obviously we loved. We missed the winding alley ways and “old” feeling you get in Genoa or Florence. And oddly we had a hard time finding good restaurants. Our first night there, for instance, was Saturday and we couldn’t find anywhere decent for dinner. When our hotel finally found something open and made a reservation for us … it was the same place we’d had lunch!
(Even with having to eat lunch and dinner in the same place, there was one more indignity. When we ate at lunch and the weather was nice we wanted to eat outside on the plaza, but the only tables were inside. And when we went for dinner and wanted to eat inside because it had turned quite chilly, well, you guessed it, the only available tables were outside. All was not lost, though; they had very comfortable blankets to keep us warm.)
We were feeling pretty art-museumed-out after Florence & Genoa, so we spent much of or time in Turin at three somewhat more unusual museums – a museum on the Risorgimento, the National Automobile Museum, and Museum of the Cinema. None of them got rave reviews from both of us. Mark liked the car museum, and I’ll admit to enjoying seeing some pretty cool old cars (my favorites were the very early steam-powered cars; turns out what works for trains isn’t so practical for cars). My favorite part, though, was the two-mile walk along the Po River out to the museum on a beautiful fall day. Neither of us were that keen on the Risorgimento museum; it was just too difficult to follow the story of what happened when and to whom.The Museum of the Cinema was interesting mostly because of the building it’s in. The Mole Antonelliana – named for the architect Antonio Antonelli – was originally conceived of as a synagogue when Turin was the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy. Skyrocketing costs, though, caused the Jewish community to pull out of the project. Turin’s residents, though, who had watched the building going up – and up and up – didn’t want it abandoned and convinced the municipality to take it over. Since then it has become the unofficial symbol of Turin; it is featured on the Italian two-cent euro coin and was the emblem of the 2006 Winter Olympics held in Turin. The building itself has served in various roles, including as home to municipal offices and as the original Risorgimento museum. It has housed the Cinema Museum since 2000, though for us touring the building beat touring the museum hands down.
Finally, we did go through the Gallery of Modern Art just to get a flavor of something besides all the old stuff we’d been seeing in Italy. The exhibit was fun, but the lines were almost amusing. There was a temporary Monet exhibit from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Apparently if you want to make a quick buck in art-museum-world, host a Monet exhibit. We got there early enough to miss most of the line, but even so the exhibit itself was so crowded I don’t know how anyone could have enjoyed it. And all to see a bunch of pretty stuff that you’ve probably seen in photos and prints before. (Lest I sound too cynical, I’ll admit to being blown away by one of the items there, an Impressionistic view of the British Parliament on the Thames. I’ve seen the picture before, but seeing it live, the colors were so much more vibrant than I would have expected. The rest, though, wasn’t worth the crowd.)
For me the real star of Turin was the fall weather. I loved walking along the Po with the smell of decomposing leaves filling the air. Just loved it. (Question: why do decomposing leaves smell so much better than, say, decomposing fish?) Mark & I spent much of the first two years we traveled chasing summer, and then had something of an extended spring this year in China. Now we’re thinking maybe summer isn’t the end-all, be-all and that we should try to extend spring and fall somehow. For now we’re off to Paris to celebrate my birthday and then making haste to get a little further south in Spain. We’ll see how much we like the comparatively cool temperatures of the region in October and November.
Now I really want to see you and Mark sporting some of that Victor Emanuel facial hair.